Greetings from Japan

I'm writing to you from my mother's home in Yokohama, Japan, where I've been since Tuesday. It was another lovely early spring day today. The weather was warm enough to go outside without a coat. Kids were playing outside all day, since schools don't start until next week. Their shrill voices waft all the way up to my mom's 8th floor apartment. Normally I'd be a bit annoyed, but not now.

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I went for a short walk this morning, trying to get some strength back in my legs after having been almost immobile in front of my computer for more than two weeks, not to mention enduring a very long plane trip. The cherry blossom trees are not yet in flower, though the branches are covered with expectant buds. There are plenty of other spring blooms everywhere, though, livening up balconies and front steps and small gardens everywhere in this mostly residential neighborhood.

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I still get a fit of sleepiness in the late afternoons due to jetlag, but otherwise feel great. Every time I get back to Japan, I end up feeling a lot healthier and fitter. Maybe it's my mom's cooking and Japanese food in general, or all the additional walking I do just naturally. This time there's another factor too; one of my mother's friends, a Korean gentleman called Mr. Kim who runs a small restaurant in the neighborhood and is experienced in Chinese herbal medicine, has taken me under his wing. He took one look at me when I went to his restaurant for lunch the other day and said immediately, "You've been not healthy. You need to lose weight. I'll help you get healthy." How did he know, and how did he manage put it in a way that didn't get my back up and tell him to mind his own business? I guess it was the sincere friendliness behind his beaming face. The tea doesn't taste too bad - it doesn't taste great either, but it's tolerable. (He also prescribed at least one hour's walk every day, not eating for at least 4 hours before bed time, and cutting down on white flour and sugar, among other things. It's not just the tea.) I already feel lighter and better. The effects of more than two weeks of mindlessly stuffing myself with potato chips, pizza, fast food burgers and my own fingernails are slowly draining away.

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I went grocery shopping with my mom on Wednesday. We couldn't see any vegetables from Fukushima prefecture and some of the surrounding areas, but we saw plenty from other areas of the country. My mother stocked up on lots of greens from the Kyoto area, some small bamboo shoots from Kagoshima, leeks from Okayama and a whole lot more. She'd already gotten a shipment of late-season Dekopon oranges from Ehime (delivered the day after shipping, by Kuroneko Yamato, in the morning as she'd requested). Plenty of fresh produce for at least a few days. And what did my mom do with some of those veggies? Well, she always claims she's not a great cook, but I beg to disagree. This is what we had for dinner that night - shungiku (a type of green leafy vegetable) and gobo (burdock) and carrot tempura, with tiny fried new potatoes. A lot of fried food? Sure, but it's all vegetable and done to a light, greaseless crispiness. We also had natto (fermented soy beans), rice and wakame seaweed and leek miso soup. So good.

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Yesterday I went to central Yokohama, where I met a couple of ladies with two large and rather sleepy dogs. They were all trying to raise money for their NPO (non-profit organization), the Japan Animal Therapy Association. They bring well-trained animals to hospitals, retirement homes, special-needs schools and shelters to help the residents feel a little better. What a wonderful way to connect animals with humans.

Therapy dogs (and human) raising money in Yokohama, Japan

Therapy dogs raising money in Yokohama, Japan

Oh, I also got my hair dyed and cut, by my favorite hair stylist right now, Mari-san. Her mother lives right on the coastline of Chiba prefecture, and saw some high waves, but was safe. Her sister is there now, where she just had a baby. (It's quite common for Japanese women to go back to their home towns to give birth, especially if it's their first child.) Here is Mari-san having a laugh with my mom, who was getting a perm.

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By next week I should be cured of jetlag. I have a lot planned -- meeting up with people in central Tokyo, attending opening day ceremonies at a local kindergarten; talking to some greengrocers, and a lot more. I hope I can go see my sister and her kids too, though they are all getting the flu one after the other right now unfortunately. I'll see them soon enough though.

I'm trying to get permission to join a group of people going up to Fukushima to serve food at a shelter for a day the week after. It may be that they'd rather have the space I'd take up for carrying up more supplies though. That's okay - I don't want to get in the way. We'll see though. I would surely love to go. In the meantime I'm helping my mother put together more boxes of clothes and essentials to donate to the disaster-struck areas, and dropping money in numerous donation boxes. It's the least I can do.

I'm also planning another trip down to Kyoto for a few days mid-month. I'm looking forward to seeing the ancient city in full cherry blossom-clad splendor. I'll be flying by Osaka too, to indulge in some okonomiyaki and takoyaki. Better not tell Mr. Kim about that. The lights are a bit dim around here at night to save energy, so it will be fun to see the brightly-lit streets of Osaka, as garish as they can be. (Western Japan is on a different grid and a different electrical frequency even than eastern Japan, so the power shortages in the Tokyo area and the east/north have no affect on Osaka, Kyoto and other areas to the west. They're also way far away from the Fukushima plants. Did your local paper tell you important details like that? Guess not.)

If the weather is as good tomorrow as it was today, maybe I'll go over to Eiraku on the outskirts of Chinatown and pick up the best tasting pork steam buns in the world. After that I may do some window-shopping in Motomachi and stroll along the harbor. It seems I won't see a lot of foreign ships there. Cruise lines and even freighters are refusing to dock for fear of 'dangerous radiation'. Strange. The last time I checked, radiation levels of the air or water in Yokohama were as low as ever, lower in fact than many other areas of the world, like say, southern Switzerland. Seems that even central Tokyo, which is a bit more congested than the beautiful Yokohama harbor, has lower levels of radiation than say, Hong Kong. Sad that those cruise line tourists will miss out on the pleasures of this underrated city. Their loss.

Would be nice for you to be here with me. But the media is telling me you don't want to be. Your loss too, I'm afraid.

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